3 ways to save your dead-end college degree

Save Your Impractical Degree

If your degree is proving useless in the job market, you could try to turn your situation around with these education options.

By Terence Loose
If you're finding that your college degree doesn't fascinate employers as much as its subject fascinated you in school - don't worry. There are ways to turn potential employers' frowns upside down.
But first, let's take a look at how certain degrees stack up. According to the 2013 "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings" report by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, recent graduates in nursing (4.8 percent), elementary education (5.0 percent), and finance (5.9 percent) had the lowest unemployment rates.
Others didn't fare so well. Recent graduates in the following majors face high unemployment rates: political science (11.1 percent), architecture (12.8 percent), and information systems (14.7 percent).
If you have one of these degrees or one that's holding you back from having the career you want, there are ways to fix that by earning another degree or certificate, says Lisa Adams, a job search expert for the career coaching websites CareerHMO.com and Careerealism.com, and founder of Fresh Air Careers, a career management company.
The options include everything from certificate programs to master's degrees. Keep reading to find out how these options could help you make the most out of your unemployable degree.

A Master's Degree Could Complement Your Impractical Degree

Perhaps you picked your bachelor's degree using your heart more than your head. That's great, unless your heartthrob of a degree isn't impressing employers. So, one way you may be able to turn that around is get a more practical master's degree, which might allow you to pursue a career in your beloved field.
And in fact, the "Hard Times" report findings support this thought. "Despite the slow recovery, the overall unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 7.9 percent and the overall unemployment rate for graduate degree holders is 3.3 percent," the report says.
Adams says a master's degree could be a great move when researched and done with a specific career in mind. "It could help you find a new career that, while not exactly what you wanted when you got your bachelor's, is in an industry you are passionate about," she says.
It's no question that a master's in business administration (MBA) is one of the most versatile graduate degrees, but it's also one of the most marketable. With a low unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, according to the "Hard Times" report, an MBA could help make the best of a less desirable bachelor's degree. Here are a few examples of how it might work:

Weak Degree: Bachelor's in Fine Arts

Unemployment Rate: 10.1 percent*
Here's a degree that often is all about following your passion. But sometimes passion doesn't pay the bills - where do you think the term "starving artist" came from? But Andrew Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce and author of the "Hard Times" report, says a master's might be a good plan.
"If you get a BA in the arts, you better plan on getting a master's degree. If you get a master's, the job market is a lot better," says Carnevale. With more arts graduates than there are job opportunities, you must have a solid strategy, and "a master's will generally open doors," he adds.
Next step: Click to Find the Right MBA Program.
Potential Career with an MBA: Art Director
The U.S. Department of Labor says that art directors direct the visual style of everything from magazines and newspapers to product packaging and movie productions. The Department of Labor also says that art directors need a bachelor's degree in an art or design subject along with previous work experience. Some supplement this with an MBA to take on a more creative or more managerial role.

Weak Degree: Bachelor's in Architecture

Unemployment Rate: 12.8 percent*
Here's a very respected degree that just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Namely, says Carnevale, architecture is very dependent on the housing market, so when it crashed, these grads got nailed.
"This time the recession hit anything driven by housing or finance in the housing market really hard, so architects got hit hard," says Carnevale. He adds that most economists don't expect it to come back until at least 2017. So one choice would be to add an MBA to your resume while you're waiting.
Next step: Click to Find the Right MBA Program.
Potential Career with an MBA: Architectural and Engineering Manager
The U.S. Department of Labor says architectural and engineering managers oversee architectural and engineering activities, including research and development. Architectural managers almost always have a bachelor's in engineering or a professional degree in architecture, and then, to gain management skills, often pursue a master's degree, such as an MBA.

Weak Degree: Bachelor's in Information Systems

Unemployment Rate: 14.7 percent*
Were you under the impression that any degree that has to do with computers or technology is gold in the job market? Well, you're not alone. In fact, Carnevale says it took a lot of research by many people to crack why this degree has not done very well for a while.
"The key is that there is a big difference between people who use information [systems] and those who create computer software applications and write [computer] programs," he says.
Next step: Click to Find the Right MBA Program.
Potential Career with an MBA: Computer and Information Systems Manager
These professionals help define the information technology goals of an organization, then implement computer systems to meet them, says the U.S. Department of Labor. For this position, many organizations require candidates to have a graduate degree, such as an MBA, in addition to a bachelor's degree related to computer or information science.

A Certificate is a Less Demanding Option

If you're not up for the financial and time commitment that earning a master's degree requires, you might want to consider a certificate program. Often, these can be completed in less time, and they can really impress employers, says Adams.
"According to her, certificate programs are becoming more and more respected by employers. "[Earning one] shows employers that even if you're 10 or 15 years out of school, you are continually going back for some sort of education. You're keeping up to date and learning the newest developments," she says.

Weak Degree: Bachelor's in Philosophy

Unemployment Rate: 9.5 percent*
Complimentary Certificate: Paralegal Studies
Here's a degree that doesn't do so well by itself, but often its grads move onto law, says Carnevale. But if you're not convinced that you want to chase a law degree because of the cost or commitment, a certificate in paralegal studies could be a good move.
"I think working as a paralegal is an excellent idea for someone who wants to test whether to pursue their law degree or not," says Adams. She says it's very practical because you'll earn money while discovering if you really want to pursue law as a career.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Program.
Potential Career: Paralegal. Paralegals assist lawyers and do everything from helping them prepare legal arguments to drafting contracts and other documents, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Most paralegals have either an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's in another subject with a certificate in paralegal studies.

Weak Degree: Bachelor's in Information Systems

Unemployment Rate: 14.7 percent*
Complimentary Certificate: Project Management Professional (PMP)
We've spoken about a bachelor's in information systems not having the greatest employment opportunities above, but instead of pursuing an MBA, a project management professional certificate might be the call. Adams says this certificate prepares professionals for overseeing large projects in a variety of businesses, from high-tech companies to marketing firms.
"I have a client who has been in marketing for 20 years and is burned out. She's ready for a change and she's thinking about a PMP certificate," says Adams. This certificate trains professionals in "risk management, managing teams, managing tasks, and more. It's designed for large projects, some that can last over multi-years."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Project Management Program.
Potential Career: Project Manager. According to the Program Management Institute, program managers are responsible for all aspects of a project from start to finish at an organization. They lead and coordinate different teams to deliver projects within the constraints of schedule, budget, and scope. Project managers usually need a PMP certificate, a high school diploma or a bachelor's degree, and professional experience.

A Practical Associate's Degree Could Improve Your Job Outlook

If there's any constant in life, it's change. And that goes for your interests, too. Often, what turned you on in college doesn't get you fired up any longer. In fact, says Adams, many of her clients look back and wish they had studied something else.
At the same time, going back to school to pursue another bachelor's might be too big of a commitment. That's where an associate's degree comes in. You could earn one in a field that is not only attractive to you, but also to employers. Plus, associate's degrees could be completed in as few as two years.
Here are a few hot associate's degrees to consider.

Associate's Degree in Nursing

If your passion is to help people feel better but your current degree doesn't open any opportunities for that, an associate's degree in nursing could solve that problem. In this program, you could not only learn how to care for people who are sick and injured, but could also study ethical issues related to illness, says the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.
Potential Career: Registered Nurse
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are three usual paths to pursuing this career: an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program. The Department of Labor adds that registered nurses can expect excellent job opportunities.

Associate's Degree in Health Information Technology

Want to move to the booming health care industry but not sure you want a career that's as hands-on as nursing? Then getting your associate's degree in health information technology might be a better choice. According to the College Board, these programs cover how to prepare and maintain medical records and their organizational systems. This course of study could also include learning medical coding, laws regarding patient confidentiality, and the latest medical records software.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Health Information Technology Program.
Potential Career: Medical Records and Health Information Technician
According to the Department of Labor, these professionals typically have a postsecondary certificate or an associate's degree. Many employers often also require professional certification.

Associate's Degree in Civil Engineering Technology

If you've always dreamed of a career in engineering, helping to build dams and bridges, but never tackled the big job of getting a degree in engineering, you might consider an associate's degree in civil engineering technology. This program could teach you how to draft plans for large projects, write reports, and analyze construction sites, says the College Board.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Engineering Program.
Potential Career: Civil Engineering Technician
According to the Department of Labor, these professionals help civil engineers plan and design the construction of bridges, highways, and other large infrastructure projects. And although it's not always required, employers generally want candidates who have an associate's degree in engineering technology, says the Department.

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